Reflection from a Class of 1996 Trailblazer

What was it like to be among the first young women at Fenwick?

By Terese McCarthy Best ’96 (commencement address)

Good morning, Father Davis, Mr. Quaid, Administrators, Board Members, Faculty, Parents, Friends, Honored Guests, and Classmates.

Friar Teresa McCarthy in 1996.

Four years ago, we walked through the doors behind us and sat in these seats. We came in alone, or in groups, but all of us were nervous [about] high school: the best years of our lives, or so we were told — our glory days.

But, even in the beginning, as we sat in the auditorium and perhaps even before that, we were different from any other freshmen class in Fenwick history. Before we even met, we already had an identity, a bond that would forever hold us together in the minds of others. In the minds of alumni, parents, administrators, teachers, and upperclassmen, we became significant the moment that we were admitted. All eyes were on us. Would we succeed? Would we fail? Or, despite the publicity, would we slip by, virtually unnoticed, into Fenwick history, never distinguishing ourselves beyond the title of the first coed class?

After a few months, the newspaper men and cameras disappeared, and we settled into Fenwick. We went through the motions in the beginning, nervous freshmen, obnoxious sophomores, over-worked juniors. More than once, I heard people, especially in our class and the class of 1995, speculate whether we would be capable of capturing the spirit every senior class before us had demonstrated. Would we finally come together, as a class, to forge our own identity?

Ask anyone who has been in the building during the last nine months, whether the class of 1996 has incredible school spirit and a strong sense of class identity, and they will answer yes. We have broken records, athletically and academically. The balance between academic and athletic success that we have demonstrated as a class will serve as a standard for the underclassmen to strive to meet.

The football team advanced to the state semi-finals, winning 12 consecutive games, the most in Fenwick history. Boys’ basketball, baseball, football, and hockey each came in first in the Catholic League. Girls’ basketball and softball came in first in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Boys and girls’ basketball and girls’ soccer were IHSA regional champions, and hockey won the Kennedy Cup. The girls’ and boys’ water polo teams both came in third in the state. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were an amazingly talented and devoted group of athletes. Our trophies, plaques, medals, and records speak for themselves.

However, in the tradition of Fenwick, we were never satisfied to succeed merely on the field. The colleges we are attending, the scholarships awarded, clearly demonstrate our academic success. However, there’s more to it than that. Involvement outside the classroom has been amazing, too. Our speech and debate team was first in the Catholic League, with individuals placing as high as second in the state and advancing to the nationals. The JETS Team was first in the district, second in the regional, and the only Catholic school to advance to the state finals for the fourth year in a row. The math team won the Archdiocese math contest, finished first in the regionals in state math, first in the district in Illinois Math League, and was the highest scoring private school in the state at the state finals.

And so, we will not be remembered merely as the first coed class, but as a class that reached a new level of pride and excellence while continuing the Fenwick tradition. We have shown the underclassmen what we spent three years observing. We have shown them what it means to truly be a Fenwick Friar.

However, none of these records would mean anything to any of us without the bond we share. Many things have helped to create this bond: classes, sports — watching or participating — but, perhaps most importantly, the Kairos retreat program. Whatever it was, we share something that I can’t find words to describe. It’s when people say “hi” to each other in the halls, when they stop just to find out how it’s going or if you won your most recent game. It’s saying good luck, or congratulations, or offering a hug and a shoulder to cry on when something goes wrong. It is supporting each other, challenging each other, comforting each other.

Touchstone poet Nick Scouffas ’96.

I was reading Touchstone, our literary magazine, and I was struck by a poem that our classmate Nick Scouffas wrote called “I Am.” The first line is “I am alone.” It is the last stanza, however, that hit me:

I understand that the paths will not always be paved
I say let us pave the paths
I dream our unity, though alone, will carry us to uncharted roads

I try to read a map but no matter which way I have it,
it is always upside down
I hope we follow these roads and find treasures
that only we can appreciate.
I am no longer alone.

We may have come in alone, and it may have taken us a while to discover who we are, individually and collectively. But, when we walk out that door today, for the last time, we walk out together. No matter which way our paths in life may take us, we leave Fenwick as Friars. We will walk out of the door today with a bond, as a class, that will last. We are no longer alone.

About the Author

Terese McCarthy Best is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Risk Officer of Caspian Capital, LP, a New York-based investment advisor. Prior to this role, she was the Director of Research and a research analyst at Caspian. Terese also serves as Vice Chairman of the boards of Marquette National Corporation and Marquette Bank.  Terese graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters.

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